Regional businesses are crying out for workers, with staff shortages and a lack of accommodation combining to create a perfect storm.
Businesses in towns such as Braidwood, Batemans Bay and Jindabyne say they are unable to find staff, while people looking to head south to work in the snowfields for winter face living in their vans or camping on private land due to a lack of accommodation.
Regional Australia Institute CEO Liz Ritchie said regional job vacancies now account for nearly one-third of all vacancies across the country.
“The last time the labour market was this strong was during the mining construction boom in 2011-2012,” she said.
On the NSW South Coast, cafes and restaurants are the main businesses struggling to find employees as people flock to regional areas recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfires. But if you want to work in the area, it’s a case of good luck finding a place to live.
In Braidwood, businesses that were making as little as $50 a weekend in the aftermath of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19 restrictions are now booming and finding it difficult to fill the extra positions.
Karuna Bajracharya, who owns the Smokey Horse Himalayan/Nepalese restaurant in Braidwood, said he has been trying to employ a casual kitchenhand for a few weeks without success.
“All the businesses here are competing for the same pool of people to fill their vacancies,” he said. “If people are sick or away, it is really hard to find someone.”
Other business owners told Region Media there is a strong demand for businesses to fill casual positions in the town’s cafes and the bakery, while Mona Farm, on the outskirts of Braidwood, has had to find workers from outside the area to meet its demand for weddings and other functions.
According to the Regional Australia Institute, the demand for workers has hit an all-time high with more than 66,200 jobs available across the country during March 2021.
There has been a 72.5 per cent increase in advertised job vacancies in regional NSW, with 19,732 jobs advertised in March 2021, compared to 11,438 at the same time last year.
In the ACT, there has been a 22.5 per cent increase in the number of jobs advertised between the same period.
The largest share of advertised jobs was for skilled workers in trades, care and clerical worker positions, while Dubbo and the western NSW region recorded the strongest annual growth, with job ads up by 117 per cent in the year to March 2021.
However, the trade-off is the impact on the opening of the snow season on the June long weekend, with the president of the Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce, Olivier Kapetanakos, saying the town is facing a dire shortage of homes to accommodate seasonal workers. Staff are also in short supply due to the lack of seasonal workers from overseas.
Mr Kapetanakos told Region Media the alpine town’s chamber of commerce has been working with the Federal Government to renew working visas for many overseas workers who decided not to return home after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chamber is also working with Snowy-Monaro Regional Council to allow private landowners to provide seasonal workers with permits to live on their land in vans or caravans.
“Homeowners here who used to provide their homes for seasonal workers have since put them up for rent to tourists through real estate agents or Airbnb, meaning we are facing a big lack of accommodation for the 5000 or so workers expected during the ski season,” said Mr Kapetanakos.
“We know there is a fair chunk of Australian seasonal workers who are part of the van-life movement who live in their vans so we’re trying to find a place for them to live so they can come and work here.”
Mr Kapetanakos also wants to see Member for Monaro John Barilaro make assurances the NSW Government will support the area. The town’s business community met on Friday, 7 May, to discuss the issue of labour supply and accommodation.
Ms Ritchie said governments need to embrace the regional renaissance and rebalance the nation’s population away from its congested capitals.
“Of course, there will be growing pains with regionalisation, but we should not shy away from the challenges ahead, and housing is one of those,” she said.